Back in the day when newspapers still prowled the earth, I was working for a metro in Oregon and had a serendipitous lunch one day with a couple of colleagues. We got to talking about books and genres and novelists, and what worked and didn’t, and folks who were in it for the long haul and those who were one-shot wonders. Louis L’Amour’s name came up, along with the eternal debate of whether a mere Western constitutes literature in any sense. It wasn’t long before a bet ensued:
The first one of us to produce a novel would collect $100 each from the other two.
This was back in the day when $100 amounted to more than pocket change, so I spent the next six weeks, pounding away at a TRS-80 Radio Shack portable computer, or maybe it was an IBM-PCJr. No matter. My nights were filled with images of Western vistas I’d visited through the years and the dusty lore of black-and-white movies and old newspaper clippings and word-of-mouth tales from cowboys and ranch hands who’d made a living in the Old West.
The result was called The Killing Trail. It sat in a drawer on an floppy disk for 13 years, and I never did collect on the bet. But newspaper people stay in touch, and one of my former colleagues called one day, after I’d left journalism behind and was teaching at a college in Salem, and asked whether I still had the Western kicking around.
“Heard about a guy who wants to publish a series,” he said.
Connections were made, The Killing Trail did well enough to generate a sequel, Trail of Revenge, which in turn produced another sequel, Trail to Redemption, which in turn produced a prequel, Trail to Dead Man’s Gulch.
Time is relentless. The business model changed, the small California publishing house that handled the Max Blake Western series folded, and I was soon looking for another project.
One of the maxims of writing is to tell stories that you know well and understand, stories you’ve lived and experienced.
Seems simple enough … so why not take the federal marshal who populated the Arizona and Oregon territories of the Old West and dust him off and move him, say, 150 years into the future?
Max Blake, the great-great grandson of the character who first appeared in The Killing Trail, operates in the modern day, trading in his Colt .45 single-action Army pistol for a Walther P99. This Max is no federal marshal. He’s a former investigative reporter for an Oregon metropolitan daily newspaper who teaches journalism at a community college in the state capitol (sounds familiar, right?). And because the journalism department is closed for the summer term, he operates a private detective agency on the side, chasing check-kiters and unfaithful spouses and lost dogs and running background checks, using the skills he developed as a reporter to help pay the bills.
Until his luck changes …